Story by Jim Horvath
Photos and video by Larry Bennet
With 37 seconds left in the game, Westlake’s Jamie Lackner found a crack in Elyria’s defense. From the top of the key, he drove the ball down the lane and hit a little floater that gave the Demons a 44-43 lead.
But just 12 seconds later, Elyria’s Isaiah Walton came up with a big shot of his own.
The 6-3 junior guard pulled up on the right wing and launched a 3-pointer that hit nothing but net. That shot proved to be the game-winner as Elyria downed Westlake, 47-44, Tuesday night in non-conference boys basketball action.
“Isaiah’s three was huge,” said Elyria head coach Brett Larrick, whose team moved to 8-2 on the season. “We knew we could get some shots. We’ve got two really good guards in Isaiah and Kody Bender.
“Isaiah hit the big three, and Kody did a nice job taking care of the ball and getting to the free throw line,” he said.
The Demons dropped their second straight game to start the 2013 portion of their season. Westlake was coming off a 67-57 Southwestern Conference loss to Berea last Friday night and now stands at 5-3 overall.
“The ball wouldn’t go in for us in the second half,” admitted Demons head coach Shawn Hood, whose team shot 50 percent in the first half. In the second half, however, Hood’s Demons managed to make just six of 22 attempts from the floor as Elyria rallied from a 27-20 halftime deficit.
“It had everything to do with Elyria and their quickness,” Hood said. “They turned things up a notch in the second half. It’s nothing I didn’t tell our guys. I told them at halftime that I almost didn’t like making a 3-pointer before the half.
“Then you come into the locker room smiling. Then when you go out of the locker room smiling, they kick your head in because they’re upset that they’re down seven in their gym. And they played like it,” he added.
Hood was referring to Shawn Turk’s long distance 3-pointer from the left wing that beat the buzzer and gave the Demons their 7-point halftime advantage. Westlake had things going in that first half, making 11 of 22 shots from the floor and controlling the boards with a 20-7 rebound margin.
That all changed in the second half.
The first scoring attempt of the third quarter proved to be a sign of things to come for the Pioneers. Bender, who had been held to three points in the first half, pulled up for a 3-pointer on the left wing.
His shot glanced off the rim, but he was fouled on the play. Bender nailed all three free throws - Elyria’s first charity tosses of the game - to start swinging the momentum in the home team’s favor.
Danny Strodtbeck scored on a fast break for the Demons, but Elyria answered with a fast break bucket by Walton and a 3-pointer out of the corner from junior guard Ronnie Smith to cut the Westlake lead to one at 29-28.
The two teams played the rest of the third on even terms, but Walton’s jumper gave Elyria a narrow 36-35 lead heading into the fourth quarter. A Bender free throw to start the final quarter gave the Pioneers a 2-point lead, but Strodtbeck’s two freebies tied the score at 37-37.
Bender came back with two more free throws, then hit a jumper to give Elyria its biggest lead of the night, 41-37. But back came the Demons on a pair of Lackner free throws and a bucket inside from Bryan Mackenzie off a nice entry pass from Gavin Skelly. Mackenzie was also fouled on the play, and his free throw gave Westlake a 42-41 lead with 2:41 left in the game.
With the defensive intensity increasing, both teams missed their share of shots down the stretch. The Pioneers, in fact, got off just seven shots in the quarter. Two of them, however, came at the right time.
Senior Dontae Dukes scored inside for a 43-42 Elyria lead. After a Demon timeout with just under a minute left, Westlake patiently worked the ball against Elyria’s tenacious defense. The ball found its way to Lackner at the top of the key.
With the lane wide open, the 6-4 senior drove to the hoop and floated the ball over an oncoming Pioneer defender to give Westlake a 44-43 lead. But Walton’s 3-pointer proved too much for the Demons to overcome in the final 26 seconds.
After a timeout, Westlake failed to get off a shot attempt on its next possession as Skelly was called for an offensive foul while setting a screen for Turk near midcourt with 16.6 seconds left. Bender then split a pair of free throws with 13.8 ticks left.
As the clock ticked down to zero, Westlake’s 3-point attempt glanced off the rim and into the hands of Elyria’s Tavon Kurtz as the final buzzer sounded.
“I thought the whole game we played pretty hard defensively,” said Larrick, whose team held Westlake to eight points in the third quarter and nine in the fourth.
“Our guys did a great job scrambling. In the first half, I thought we played hard but made some careless mistakes,” Larrick said. “At the end of the half we missed what should have been a trap, and then we missed a couple of layups. It should have been tied instead of us being down seven.
“But in the third and fourth quarter, we went full court, 94 feet. We had different guys on the ball, different guys taking away their strong hand and making their point guards work. I thought we took them out of some things and played some great team defense,” he added.
Walton led all scorers with 21 points, while Bender was close behind with 16 points.
Mackenzie led the Demons with 10 points, while Skelly contributed nine points and 16 rebounds for the Demons, who outrebounded the Pioneers 34-18. Strodtbeck chipped in with seven points and Lackner had five boards.
“We had a couple of opportunities early that didn’t go in that normally would have,” Hood said of his team’s second-half shooting.
“That would have given us some momentum, but that didn’t happen. They gained momentum, and then they felt that they could beat us off the dribble. I don;t know that they shot the ball excessively well, but it was better thinning he first half.
“Still, we made them take some tough shots. I thought we rebounded the ball OK, which was a big emphasis for us after getting beat on the glass at Berea. But we just couldn’t score the ball in the second half like we had been,” he added.
Westlake resumes SWC play Friday night when it hosts North Olmsted.